The Lifespan of a Pet Rat: How to Manage a Short Life Expectancy

Pet Health


September 9, 2020

Rats are not the most popular pets. They’re often used as props to set the scene for chaos and decay in a dystopian movie.

However, things are notably changing. A growing set of the human population is catching up to the truth that rats are incredibly smart, friendly, cuddly, and fun.

Most importantly, they’re exceptionally clean animals, no matter what their image in the movies says.

Major Life Stages of a Pet Rat

On average, rats thrive in the wild from two to three years, while domesticated pet rats or fancy rats can live three to four years.So how old is my rat in rat years as humans?

  • Gestation Period

Female rats give birth to a litter of 6 to 13 pups or babies at a time. They carry these babies in their womb from 21 to 25 days, giving birth from 5 to 10 times a year. This rapid reproduction rate is one factor you need to keep in mind when getting pet rats.

  • Birth

Rats are born blind and have poor eyesight throughout their lives.

However, they more than make it up with their keen senses of smell, touch, sight, and hearing. They’re also hairless and toothless at birth. Within seven days, their coat, limbs, tails, and teeth start to show and grow.

Rats grow fast and can walk to their feeding stations within two weeks. These intelligent rodents instinctively learn and memorize the features of their environment, pathways, and the location of their food. They can easily master the obstacles in their paths and stay away from new objects as a means of self-preservation.

  • Puberty and Sexual Maturity

At 1.5 months or the equivalent of 12.5 human years, rats reach puberty. Female rats undergo the onset of estrous cycles, and both male and female rats experience a host of physiological changes brought about by reproductive hormones.

Male rats, often referred to as bucks, are sexually mature within 6 to 10 weeks, while females (or does) reach sexual maturity within 8 to 12 weeks. 

If you’re planning to breed rats, make sure to consider the age of the female. The ideal age for female rats to get pregnant and give birth is within 4 to 5 months. Beyond 6 to 8 months, pregnancies become difficult and may even require Cesarean sections. Wait a few weeks before breeding the same female rat again to let her recover.

Due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, female rats may exhibit a change in personality, such as aggressive behavior or disinterest in activities. Ensure they get the proper nutrition, exercise, and ample bedding space to nest and rest before birth.

  • Menopause and Fertility

The fertility and reproduction rate of female rats starts to decline at 18 months old or 45 human years. As the female rat approaches menopause, its fertility and litter size starts to decrease, and pregnancies become less successful. Male rats, however, stay fertile well into their old age.

  • Old-Age and Death

A two-year-old rat is 60 years old in human years, while a three-year-old rat will show the marked decline that’s typically present in a 90-year-old human. You’ll notice a dramatic change in weight and the quality of their coat and skin at old age. Your pet rat will either be overweight or super thin.

Coupled with the noticeable weight gain or loss is the decline in agility due to a host of health problems, including neurological, heart, kidney, and liver issues, cataracts, arthritis, and other illnesses associated with old age.

In their prime, rats have a relatively robust immune system. When they show symptoms of respiratory problems, it usually points to something serious that often leads to death.

Factors that Affect the Life Expectancy of Pet Rats

The oldest known rat, according to the Guinness Book of Records, is Rodney from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He lived to the ripe age of seven years and four months. Like humans and any other pet animals, a pet rat’s longevity and survival depend on several factors: the environment, diet and nutrition, socialization, and health care.

There is no definitive study or formula that can tell you how to prolong your pet rat’s life, but there are certain things that can make their life more comfortable and help ward off ailments and premature death.

  • Teeth Management

Rats have a pair of open-rooted incisors at the top and bottom of their mouths. This means they continuously grow throughout your pet’s life.

To wear down the growing teeth, rats need to constantly chew on things and prevent the teeth from reaching the roof of the mouth or curving and curling along the cheeks until they get in the way of food intake.

When left to grow uncontrollably, teeth can severely affect your pet rat’s quality of life and cause intense pain, anorexia, infections, and other ailments. To help them manage their growing teeth, provide them with chewable, non-toxic blocks of wood or chew toys.

Inspect the inside of the rat’s mouth and check for any overgrowth. You can also manually trim the incisors using a pair of clippers and rotary handheld tools. Use anesthesia and extreme care while trimming so as not to cause tooth cracking and pain. Consult your vet or a pet specialist if you’re unsure of the trimming process. 

  • Proper Housing

Like you, your pet rats deserve a clean place to stretch out, play, eat, and sleep comfortably. An ideal rat housing has good ventilation and is not directly exposed to the sun’s harsh rays or cold, drafty wind.

A wire cage with horizontal bars and a wire mesh top is ideal so that your pet can climb and exercise their limbs.

Set up the cage in the corner of your home that’s quiet during the day but is not entirely devoid of human traffic. Rats are nocturnal creatures, so they’ll spend most of the day dozing off and recharging. Include a supportive bedding, climbing bars, and a dedicated place for food and water for maximum comfort. Designate a litter tray and use it to potty train your little rodent.

If you need help in designing your rat’s lair, you can always turn to the internet for inspiration

  • Sufficient Exercise and Activities

Rats love to explore and roam around. You can hone these instincts to give your rat a good exercise. Add some fun elements to their housing, such as slides made of PVC pipes or tissue paper cores. Include mini hammocks, stairs, and levels so that your furry companion will have a lot of nooks and crannies to explore.

If you’re feeling adventurous and crafty, set up an elaborate obstacle course with delicious treats and toys at the end that your pet rat can enjoy. Like most dogs, rats are loving and cuddly.

Take them out of the cage regularly so you can spend quality time together. Just make sure they don’t get lost in the crevices of your couch or walls while outside the cage.

Signs of Illness

Watch out for any telltale signs of poor health. These signs include sudden weight changes, appetite loss, dull or thinning coat, poor energy levels, and sluggishness. A change in the color and smell of their urine or feces can also indicate that your furry companion may be sick.

A noticeable head tilt may be a sign of infection, stroke, or tumor, while the presence of wounds and patchy hair in the neck, legs, and back can mean parasites.

If you notice any lumps, you may want to get your pet rat checked for tumors and cysts. A reddish-brown discharge in the eyes can point to a serious respiratory or viral infections that can lead to pneumonia.

Healthy Diet and Nutrition

What you feed your pet plays a significant role in its longevity. When feeding your pet rat, always remember its size. Always serve manageable portions to prevent diarrhea and an upset stomach. An adult rat typically consumes 15 to 25 grams of food and 30 to 50 ml of water daily.

You can leave a large cube pellet for them to chew and consume over time. If you notice your pet gaining weight, check the fat content of their diet. Be careful and avoid fat-rich and calorie-rich foods, which will have adverse effects on their overall health and longevity.

The rat food available in pet stores comes in the form of pellets, blocks, and seed mixes. Choose products that are specifically made for rats or mice. Steer clear of items designed for hamsters, rodents, and gerbils as these usually contain substances that may cause more harm than good to your pet rat.

Instead of relying on an all-pellet diet, you can feed your furry friend bite-sized portions of organic fruits, vegetables, and certain human foods, such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, cooked liver, and lean meats.

What and How to Feed Newborn Rats

Newborn rats typically draw milk from their moms, but if you find yourself with a litter of orphaned rats, you can feed them with rat formula or find a female nursing rat to act as a surrogate mom. Newborn rats or pinkies need to eat every two hours, so you will need to keep that in mind if you decide to raise a litter.

Foods to Avoid

Not all fruits, vegetables, and human foods are safe for your pet rat. Some food items that are toxic to pet rats include chocolates, caffeinated and carbonated drinks, raw beans, cabbage, and brussels sprouts. Make sure to keep your pet away from sweet and sugary foods, as well as potato chips and junk food.

Male rats must never consume food that contains the compound d-limonene. Mangoes, lemons, oranges, and nutmegs all fall under this category.

Care and Life Expectancy

It’s very easy to fall for the allure of the tiny, charming rat. These lovely creatures are smart, loyal, and arguably much easier to care for than dogs.

However, their short lifespan may mean that you’ll have to make the most out of your short time together.

The stats are not in favor of your pet. However, you can give them a comfortable, happy life with proper care and even significantly extend their lifespan. Stay attuned to the changes in their physicality and moods. Make sure their cages are always clean. Feed them properly and let them have a good workout. All these things will ensure your furry friend will live as long as possible!